The annual release of an Elvis Costello album has become something of an event in the increasingly jaded and stultified pop music scene. And no wonder, for over the last few years Costello has proven to be a solidly reliable source of pearls of wisdom and of many absolute classics of pop.
Over the past eight years, he's produced memorable singles such as "Oliver's Army" and "Pills and Soap" and some indispensable LPs — 1980's Get Happy! and 1982's Imperial Bedroom.
At his best, Costello is a consummate songwriter with an eye for vivid detail. He can weave any subject into a song and capture any mood. For example, "Shipbuilding," from last year's Punch the Clock, is a haunting lament of the Falklands War. He ranges between nuclear proliferation ("Big Sister's Clothes") and simple love rockers ("Girls Talk").
There's little that Costello hasn't achieved both as an artiste and as a social commentator working in the pop field.
Indeed last year New Musical Express, a British rock weekly, called him "the most formidable entertainer in contemporary music."
If the last few albums pointed towards a trend, that Costello is on the path of truly great works, then Goodbye Cruel World comes as a big disappointment.
This is a record of such terrifying mediocrity that we can only wonder how his artistic judgement could have failed.
The record opens brashly enough with the white soul of "The Only Flame in Town," which features guest vocals from Daryl Hall and is potentially the best single on the LP.
But from then on, it's downhill until the final track, the much-touted "Peace in Our Time."
The sad fact then is that Elvis Costello is no longer this year's model.